What Is A Full Stack Developer, Really?

Full Stack Developer - Klyp

In the digital realms of developing websites, there are different specialists for different areas. Front-End Developers focus on the part of a website that a user sees and interacts with. These developers primarily use HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Back-end developers focus on the behind the scenes working of those sites, they connect the database to the front-end so that users can view dynamic content and primarily use PHP and MySQL.

If you are able to do all of that, you are typically referred to as a 'Full Stack Developer’.

Here is where it gets tricky though. Front-end and back-end can be seen as different layers of a website, however they are never referred to as a stack. Typically a server software setup is called a stack, most commonly a LAMP stack. The letters indicate the server software, Linux (OS), Apache (Server), MySQL (Database) and PHP (Script), needed to run a web server. If we compare developers to the server stack, you will see that only some developers work on any part of what is called, the stack. A system administrator that can also build websites is in fact, the closest thing you will get to a Full Stack Developer.

The lines for this become even more confusing when dealing with clients or end users, as some sites that use Content Management Systems (CMS) have an admin area where site administrators can add and edit content. That admin area is typically called the ‘back-end’ of the site, yet this is not where a Back-End Developer works. So, a website can have a front-end and a back-end that is all created by a Front-End Developer. Cool and confusing huh?

We can then blur this line even more as newer technologies are developed there are new server stacks called MEAN, which are built on JavaScript, the thing that Front-End Developers use. This is mongoDB, Express, AngularJS, NodeJS stack. This would allow someone experienced in JS to expand their JS knowledge and build an entire application. So front-end based developers have the ability to also be 'Full Stack' developers in the right environment. (Please note, they are different languages and syntaxes based on JavaScript, do not assume a Front-End Developer knows all of this.

Full Stack Developers - Klyp

So if a Front-End Developer can do all that, what does a Back-End Developer do? They are the ones responsible for getting all of the content from the database and connecting it to the front-end for user consumption. Using systems built upon database content, we can create sites that use a single template to display multiple items. Think of a site like eBay, they don’t make a new web page for every single item listed, it’s a template that all the data gets added to. Users’ can add to this data by listing their own items as well, so that also has functions that need to be created by those behind the scenes developers. Although some developers prefer to stick wholly to front or back end, a little knowledge of how the other end works is always beneficial, as it allows a team to be more effective, understanding how the other developers have to handle their ends.

A traditional Full Stack Developer should be able to create an entire site and system. They should be able to take a design and bring it to life without extra assistance.

Building all the connections and logic to allow data in and out of a database as well as make the sites’ ‘pretty’ side that everyone gets to see. As mentioned previously though ‘Full Stack’ may not necessarily be the correct terminology and can create confusion and ambiguity about what the developer actually knows and can do.

So where does this leave current Full Stack Developers? Exactly where they are. The industry has been calling them this for years and it is not likely to change soon. However, a more correct term may be ‘End-to-End’ Developer since they work on both Front and Back end systems; perhaps even a ‘Full-Service’ Developer, however if we did call them full service, people would then assume they can do even more again. Regardless of what you decide to call them, ‘Full Stack’ is most likely here to stay - albeit slightly incorrect.

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Aaron Humphreys Aaron Humphreys

About the author:
Aaron is a "Full Stack" Developer at Klyp. He is a technology enthusiast and gamer at heart.